Last year, 58 percent of the adult population in the U.S. was on Facebook according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Survey. And, interestingly, among Internet users ages 65 and older, the number of Facebook users has risen an impressive 21 percent since late 2012. With statistics like that, is it any wonder that hospitals and other health organizations are actively exploring ways to integrate social media into the patient experience?
Let’s check out where social media is making an impact in healthcare.
Real-Time Insights Save Lives
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, a report by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency stated, “Although many patients sustained grave injuries, every patient who was transported to area hospitals survived.”
The report continued, “This can be directly attributed to the rapid triage, transport and treatment these patients received on scene and at hospitals.” There was another significant contribution that facilitated this outstanding response – social media.
In an article exploring how social media is being used in the healthcare arena, US News noted that trauma teams were able to prepare for the influx of surgery patients thanks to real-time reports of the bombings on Twitter.
Ellen Makar, senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said, “They were able to stop elective surgeries and prep the rooms for folks coming in.”
Three More Ways to Leverage Social Media in the Patient Experience
The Boston Marathon hasn’t been the only time that social media has empowered healthcare providers to respond quickly to patient needs. The US News article also highlighted three other ways that medical professionals are taking advantage of social media to connect with patients.
1. Sharing The Information Patients Need
Dr. Farris Timimi, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, said that social media has “changed our dynamic in a striking way: if you look at online activity, one of the most common activities is looking for health information. I don’t think providers are in a position to ignore their obligation to provide content of value where they’re spending a majority of their time.” Dr. Timimi should know: The Mayo Clinic is widely regarded as a leader in the use of social media to connect with patients. Its Facebook page boasts 624,000 ‘likes’ and offers posts ranging from healthcare success stories to suggestions for preparing health summer picnics.
2. Educate Patients and Improve Doctor-Patient Conversations
Thanks to YouTube videos, healthcare professionals can refer patients to easy-to-understand videos on social media. How does this help? Pediatricians and nurses, for example, would be able to save time spent teaching individual children how to fit a bike helmet. An oncologist can ensure a patient understands a complicated procedure so that one-on-one time with patients can, as Dr. Timimi said, can start from a “higher level.”
3. Overcome the Barrier of Isolation
Whether isolation is a result of location, diagnosis or combination of issues, social media offers healthcare providers a passageway through to these patients.
Realizing that many of their patients are reticent about asking for help, Ruthi Moore, of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, noted that what is said on “social media really helps us understand how they’re feeling on any given day. Maybe it’s just one day, or maybe it’s a series of bad days, and they would benefit from extra support.” To keep track of these conversations—and potential warning signs—Moore and the 52 nurses at the Society created professional Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, then invited their patients to follow them.
They post links to articles that may be of interest, but they also watch for updates that might signify a patient is struggling—and then take action, whether it is a private Facebook message, a phone call or, on occasion, an in-person visit. According to the article, this increased awareness has helped prevent 12 suicides. Similarly, patients who feel isolated by a rare diagnosis, can find comfort in social community groups that offer support – and relevant posts about research, treatments and disease management.
Not every patient that hospitals and other healthcare providers engage with will be a social media user, but by using psychographic segmentation, you can better understand the most likely users – and leverage that knowledge to ensure you are using the right tools with the right people. Psychographics pertain to people’s attitudes, lifestyle, values and personality. Grouping patients according to these traits can help healthcare providers engage sub-populations more effectively, increasing the likelihood of activation.
The 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic, [link to Consumer Diagnostic landing page] a national study of healthcare consumer attitudes and behaviors, examined social media usage among five healthcare psychographic segments. Figure 1 outlines just a few of the activities examined:
Note: Each psychographic segment has a letter designating its column (e.g., Balance Seekers are in column a). A letter appearing under the incidence % means that number is statistically greater (at 95% confidence) than the number appearing in the column corresponding to that letter. For example, 10% of Willful Endurers report that they have posted positive or negative feedback about a healthcare provider on a social networking site, and this is statistically greater than the percentages for column a (Balance Seekers), column c (Priority Jugglers), column d (Self Achievers) and column e (Direction Takers).
The two segments with the most social media activity are Willful Endurers and Self Achievers. However, while this behavior may be similar, these two segments are extremely different in how each approaches health and wellness. Willful Endurers are generally disengaged from the healthcare system and are reactive, addressing a health issue only when it gets bad enough. Self Achievers are the most proactive of the segments, investing in their health and very wellness-oriented. Each segment is motivated by different things and has its own communication preferences. They will not generally respond to the same messages, but if a healthcare provider can effectively engage the segments, that provider stands to enjoy patient advocacy and strong word-of-mouth. Approach these segments incorrectly, and that same word-of-mouth can have negative consequences.
If the results of the Pew Research study are any indication, the numbers will continue to rise, ensuring that organizations that make social media a natural part of the patient experience drive engagement more effectively and see a better Return on Engagement.